A lawyer for the doctors’ groups that filed suit, however, said certain state legislators considered the practice of physicians asking about firearms safety as a “political attack on gun rights” and fired back with an unconstitutional law.
“The injury of this statute is the chill on doctors’ speech,” argued Doug Hallward-Driemeier, with the law firm Ropes & Gray. “The state cannot stop speech that it considers to be a political attack.”
During another exchange, Coogler, a federal judge from Alabama sitting as a visitor on the panel, questioned whether the physicians’ suit was premature because no Florida doctor has yet been punished under the law. The law has not been in effect since Judge Cooke issued her injunction last summer.
In her 25-page ruling, Judge Cooke clearly sided with the physicians, saying evidence showed that physicians began “self-censoring” because of the “chilling” effect of the legislation.
“What is curious about this law — and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners’ speech — is that it aims to restrict a practitioner’s ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient,” Cooke wrote, citing the benefit of such “preventive medicine.”
“The state asserts that it has an interest in protecting the exercise of the fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” Cooke wrote in another section about the Second Amendment issue. “I do not disagree that the government has such an interest in protecting its citizens’ fundamental rights. The Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, however, simply does not interfere with the right to keep and bear arms.”
The Republican-controlled state Legislature adopted the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act in 2011 after an Ocala couple complained that a doctor asked them about guns and they refused to answer. The physician refused to see them anymore.
Cooke said the legislation was based on anecdotal information and unfounded conjecture. Her decision was praised by the plaintiffs, which included the Florida Pediatric Society and Florida Academy of Family Physicians. They argued that the law was pushed by the National Rifle Association.
The legislation, indeed, was backed by the NRA, which tried to intervene in the doctors’ lawsuit. But Cooke denied the powerful lobbying group’s request, saying the state could adequately defend itself.
Lawyers for the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence are also involved in the case, representing the doctors’ side.